Together in the Same (Zoom) Room: Building Campus Community Around First-Year Writing and Information Literacy Through a Collaborative Online Forum

By Carl Hess
First Year Experience Librarian
Assistant Professor
University of Memphis

Ashley Roach-Freiman
Library Instruction Curriculum Coordinator
Assistant Librarian
University of Memphis


Collaboration between academic libraries and multiple academic and non-academic campus units can be complex—even when different units are all working to solve similar issues, such as supporting the first-year writer. Breaking down the silos inherent to higher education institutions is essential to providing students with the support they need. This paper describes how one academic library sought to improve connections with multiple campus units to support first-year student writing and research skills during the COVID-19 pandemic through an online roundtable designed to brainstorm relevant collaborative projects. The authors share details on the creation of the roundtable, how participants felt about the nature of the collaboration through a feedback survey, and ongoing progress on the projects that were developed as a result of the event.


Higher education institutions are organized into different silos, each with its own set of responsibilities and areas of focus that students must navigate. Consider a first-year student looking for support. The responsibility of providing academic writing instruction to these students is in the domain of the English department, while the writing center is tasked with providing one-on-one writing support. However, if they need help searching academic literature, evaluating sources, or other information literacy skills, that is the domain of the academic library. Other academic assistance might rest with a tutoring center, but students from a disadvantaged background might also be able to find assistance from TRiO programs on campus. If they have a disability, accommodation is the responsibility of disability services. Collaboration within and between multi-layered academic institutional contexts is essential for these students’ success because no unit is equipped to do it alone.

The reality of discrete campus units coworking effectively is impacted by local context, time, budget, staffing, and the busyness of daily tasks, all of which may prevent effective collaboration. These silos need to be bridged to support student needs. Academic libraries are uniquely positioned for facilitating these collaborations because “the academic library exists at the crossroads of the oft-parallel worlds of academic affairs and student services.”[1] Academic librarians are Schrödinger’s cats of faculty status – we often are (and are not) perceived as faculty regardless of our designated status due to the nature of our roles, which can be different from those of other faculty and look more like support or administrative.[2] However, it is possible to see a silver lining: we are chameleons of the academy, slipping between and among the values, missions, and goals of teaching faculty, support staff, and students.

In this article we will discuss the First-Year Student Writing Success Roundtable (“the Roundtable”), a collaborative project initiated by an academic library that attempted to break down silos between campus units around support for first-year writing students at one institution of higher education and create new structures for ongoing collaboration within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many barriers exist when building bridges and breaking down silos in “typical” years. The inherent effort, creativity, and labor of creating new collaborative relationships are impossible to sum up, but it is worth mentioning that many hours were spent planning the Roundtable in online meetings that coincided with increased uncertainty and fear during the Covid-19 outbreak of 2020. Librarians gathered with university staff and stakeholders in spaces defined by their ephemerality, borders created by squares on a screen and backlit by personal bookshelves or virtual backgrounds. Many attendees had never met in person, and some never did, even as we drifted back into our campus offices. Some attendees (and facilitators) moved on to other jobs or projects before the University was back on a physical campus. The unknowability of this particular moment will always be a hallmark of the Roundtable’s legacy.

Literature Review

Collaboration between academic librarians and cross-campus offices is not a new phenomenon. In a national survey, Wainwright and Davison found that academic libraries cooperated with a wide variety of service units, with the most common partnerships forming between libraries and writing centers, student affairs, and career services. More recently, partnerships between libraries and health services, veterans’ services, and LGBTQ services have become more common.[3] Seal includes many of the above collaborations in an overview of library partnerships, along with examples of academic libraries collaborating with information technology units, centers for teaching excellence, and faculty development centers.[4] Other examples of non-academic unit collaborations include counseling services,[5] disability services,[6] offices for diversity and multicultural affairs,[7] residence life,[8]  and federally funded TRiO programs.[9]

While the literature shows that librarians seek collaborative relationships with many non-academic units, the cross-disciplinary field of rhetoric and composition is “well-suited” to collaborative projects with librarians.[10] Positive case studies include an account of librarians working with First Year Composition faculty to develop critical thinking curriculum required by all students.[11]  In another example, librarians worked with composition faculty to create pilot sections of first-year writing to test teaching strategies.[12]  Such an intensive integration of information literacy in the First Year Composition (FYC) curriculum requires a significant amount of collaboration and commitment on the part of both the librarians and the FYC faculty, staff, and graduate teaching assistants.

Jacobs and Jacobs describe the transformative nature of collaboration between a librarian and an instructor of composition and rhetoric, noting that the relationship reflected the concept that research is a process.[13] By reflecting on the commonalities in disposition and expectations of their respective disciplines, the two collaborators came to realize that “[The English instructor] now sees that he was asking the library to inoculate his students against bad research habits, much as others on campus were asking him to inoculate their students against bad writing habits.”[14] This cross-disciplinary realization led to the building of a team-based approach that used and enhanced the strengths of those involved and placed research in the same context as the act of writing drafts, demonstrating that collaboration, writing, and research are all processes.

In an overlapping strategy to find partnerships, libraries often collaborate with campus writing centers. The overlapping physical and existential identities of librarians and writing center personnel, especially the overlap in goals, services and, often, environments, make them ideal collaborators.[15] These collaborations take a variety of shapes, but many include co-planning outreach, hosting consultations in shared space, co-teaching, co-designing assignments, and training.[16]  Jackson surveyed librarians, writing center staff, and tutoring services staff at American universities to create an overview of collaborative efforts among libraries and writing centers, finding that many such collaborations exist, but with very little consistency in terms of how the collaborations are initiated or maintained, what the collaborations look like, and how they function.[17]  Outcomes from collaborations of librarians and writing centers, or librarians and writing centers and writing faculty, are similarly varied, though there appears to be evidence that a “trilateral approach” of collaboration among the three units is a determinant of success in some cases.[18]

Jacobs and Jacobs do a service to planners of library collaborations by outlining the context of the collaboration as well as the steps taken and the outcomes.[19] The realization that collaboration is a process highlights its relationship-oriented nature, demonstrating the importance of active listening and communicating. Initial communications with potential collaborators are foundations for success and can be a major obstacle when done improperly.[20] Approaching potential partners with an open mind is essential. Librarians should avoid having a definite project as their desired outcome and instead co-identify shared needs and desires and design the intended outcomes together.[21] Respect for the collaborator’s expertise is essential, as is self-respect for the library and librarian’s own capabilities.[22] Starting with small projects and then building bigger programs from those successes is a common strategy, as it allows for establishing and cultivating relationships and achieving small successes without requiring the collaborators to overcommit their time and effort.[23]

Good communication is just as important in sustaining relationships as it is in developing them.[24] Differences in cultures between the library and other units can cause miscommunications, requiring librarians to learn and plan for these differences.[25] One common hurdle experienced by librarians who collaborate with faculty is the perception that librarians do not have the esteem of faculty status regardless of title.[26] Recommendations to librarians encountering such resistance are often framed in terms of persistence; librarians who have successful collaborations will establish themselves as experts and be offered greater opportunities.[27] Another stumbling block in creating and sustaining partnerships is turnover. Professional staff vacate positions more often than the faculty partners of academic department collaborations, so converting personal relationships into formal connections between the library and non-academic units is important, and frequently difficult.[28]  It is worth noting how much librarian labor is involved in simply cultivating relationships.[29]

Institutional Context

The University of Memphis is a large, urban public research university. First-year students are expected to progress through a first-year writing program of two composition courses: English (ENGL) 1010 and ENGL 1020. ENGL 1010 helps students develop academic writing practices and techniques, while ENGL 1020 furthers these skills by focusing on argumentation and researched writing.[30] Some sections of ENGL 1010 are designated as Developmental Writing (DSPW) and offer extra instruction to students who score below a certain threshold on a standardized writing instrument. The University Libraries has had a longstanding collaborative partnership with the Department of English to provide information literacy instruction to students in the first-year writing program. Because of the research focus in ENGL 1020, the Libraries collaborates closely with those course developers and instructors to design one-shot sessions on search strategies and effective use of sources. Recently, the Libraries has promoted embedded librarians (especially for online sections of ENGL 1020) and the research appointments service. Instructors for ENGL 1020 are not required to make use of any of the University Libraries’ services.

Developing the Roundtable

The First Year Student Writing Success Roundtable (the Roundtable) developed out of a planning committee in the University Libraries to create an event to support first-year information literacy. However, as partners were added from Department of English, the Center for Writing & Communication (the writing center), and Student Success Programs (the office for the federally funded TRiO programs), the scope grew to supporting first-year students on writing and research more broadly. The members of the planning committee wanted to provide an opportunity to brainstorm ways to better support students going through the first-year writing program at the University of Memphis. The goal would be to bring together participants from a variety of academic and non-academic units and give them the opportunity to reach across campus silos, share their expertise, work together to develop ideas to support these students, and create the structures for implementing these ideas.

Through the spring and summer of 2021, Roundtable members focused on developing a format that would address two seemingly contradictory goals: creating an environment for staff and faculty from multiple campus units to meet and brainstorm new collaborative projects to support first-year writers while also ensuring that no participants were exposed to COVID-19. The committee decided early that a fully virtual environment was the only way to ensure COVID exposure could not happen. Having selected a virtual format, the committee worked to identify software that would allow for comparable collaboration to an in-person experience, such as both large and small group discussion, the ability easily vote on proposals, and running brainstorming activities. To allow for synchronous interaction, the committee decided to use a video conferencing platform and quickly settled on Zoom. Zoom and Microsoft Teams were the enterprise video conference software options available at the university, but Teams had only recently been implemented, and the committee members were much familiar with Zoom and assumed participants would be as well. Its breakout rooms feature could also be used to facilitate small group interactions.

To supplement Zoom, the committee also used PollEverywhere and Google Jamboard. PollEverywhere is a digital polling software that would let participants simultaneously provide their feedback and perspectives while offering a greater variety of response types than the polling feature built into Zoom. Jamboard is a collaborative digital whiteboard that could be used to replicate brainstorming activities often done in person using a white board and markers or sticky notes. The committee felt it was intuitive, offered more features than the digital whiteboard in Zoom, and was easier to set up in advance than the Zoom whiteboard, particularly for setting up multiple whiteboards for the breakout groups.

While some members of the committee had experience taking part in and leading brainstorming activities, others did not, and none had experience doing this in a virtual environment. The committee was concerned the attendees would have a similar lack of experience. To help compensate for this, the committee crafted two documents to help create scaffolds to help prepare both attendees and facilitators for collaboration and brainstorming in a video conference. The facilitator handbook provided in-depth information on the role of the facilitator, how to run the activities, and the day’s structure [see Appendix 1]. The attendee packet introduced the Roundtable structure, gave an overview of the brainstorming activities, and shared a “Rules for Brainstorming” document from IDEO, a global design company [see Appendix 2].[31] The committee also scheduled a practice session a week before the Roundtable so they could test the activities, practice facilitation, and gain confidence using the technology.

The committee settled on a format of two half-days in July 2021 for the Roundtable. They would be held one week apart. While initial plans were for a one-day event, the committee grew concerned that a whole day of video conferencing would be tiresome (“Zoom fatigue”), which was addressed with the half days. As the committee developed the schedule, they also noticed that a lot of the later portions of the Roundtable were hard to plan not knowing the outcomes that would be generated by the brainstorming activities. Making the two events a week apart would allow the committee time to review the outcomes from the first day before finalizing activities and materials for the second.

The committee did outreach to recruit participants from the end of May 2021 and through early July. The primary outreach mechanism was email. A member of the committee developed a list of academic departments and academic support units who are heavily involved in first-year undergraduate students or general education writing and research and shared it with the rest of the committee to identify absences. The committee then sent a series of outreach emails to the heads of those units, informing them about the Roundtable and encouraging them to share information and the registration form with their units. Committee members also talked to members of their units to encourage attendance, which in turn lead to a library worker who was also an English doctoral student posting information on the Roundtable to an English graduate student list. Twenty-five individuals registered for the Roundtable, comprising additional members of the units in the planning committee along with representatives from the Department of Communication & Film, Disability Resources for Students (disability services), Educational Support Programs (academic tutoring), and UM3D (instructional design).

Running the Roundtable

The week before the first day of the Roundtable, the planning committee sent out an introductory email to registrants which included an overview of the Roundtable, information about the registrants, the attendee handbook, a list of potential framing questions [see Figure 1], and the Zoom information. Fifteen attendees joined on the first day. The committee members began the day with quick presentations introducing the first-year writing program and the brainstorming techniques to be used during the day. Attendees were then shown the potential questions to frame the brainstorming and given the ability to vote on which questions should be the priorities of the Roundtable using PollEverywhere. The attendees selected questions A, F, and G.

Figure 1: Potential Framing Questions

A.    What support can we offer to our most vulnerable populations of students—first generation college students, DSPW 1010 students, and underserved high school students who may have experienced social inequities prior to their admission into the university?

B.     How may a virtual workshop in research skills and library resources be created (with a badging system and/or certification of completion)?

C.     What may be done to offer additional training and support for English instructors (particularly 1010 and 1020) to encourage ways of embedding research skills into first year composition courses?

D.    How do we identify and build on our students’ existing knowledge and experiences with writing and research?

E.     How do we build our students’ confidence in their ability to write and research to accomplish their goals?

F.      What would make students more comfortable getting assistance with their writing and research?

G.    How should we scaffold writing and research development through ENGL 1010, ENGL 1020, and other opportunities during their first year?

After a fifteen-minute break, attendees were split into Zoom breakout rooms based on interest areas that they had expressed during registration [see Figure 2]. Each breakout room had at least one facilitator from the planning committee to lead introductions, describe the activities, keep track of time, and keep group members on task. Each interest area had one breakout. One member of the planning committee worked as an overall facilitator, tracking time, handling technical support, and checking in with breakout room facilitators. Each group brainstormed ideas individually, which led to discussing the proposed ideas. These ideas were sorted into potential solutions using the categories of “Yes,” “Maybe,” and “Not Now” using Google Jamboard. Each group then discussed which ideas from their “Yes” category to bring to the whole Roundtable. After another fifteen-minute break, each group presented their proposed solutions [see Appendix 3], which ended day one.

Figure 2: Interest Areas

  • Curricular development: Improving writing and research skills in first-year courses, specifically what happens in the classroom i.e., learning objectives, lesson plans, assignments, learning activities.
  • Resource development: Identifying and improving infrastructure, services, and supports to improve writing and research skills.
  • Outreach: How to better inform students about writing and research support services.
  • Student connections: How to help students identify and understand how writing and research will help them achieve their academic, career, and personal goals.

After discussing how Day One went, the planning committee identified the primary task of Day Two to be soliciting input from attendees on determining how the proposals would be organized and prioritized toward the goal of establishing work groups for implementation and developed a new facilitator handbook for this second day [see Appendix 4]. Attendees were sent a new participant packet in advance of Day Two with a short agenda and a series of reflective questions to help prepare them for the thinking through how to implement the proposed ideas [see Figure 3]. Fourteen attended the second session, though this number included some participants who did not attend the first session, while some first session attendants did not come to the second session.

The second session began with attendees using PollEverywhere to provide open feedback on the common themes between the proposals followed by group discussion. Then attendees used PollEverywhere to vote on prioritizing each project between “Immediate” (could be implemented by early fall 2021), “Short-Term Project” (could be implemented fall 2021 or spring 2022) and “Long-Term Project” (would take until summer 2022 at the earliest). Attendees were then given a break, while the committee sorted the proposals into categories of implementation groups based on the themes with the priorities listed [see Appendix 5]. After the break, attendees were able to sign up for an implementation group, and the roundtable ended with each implementation group meeting in a breakout to get to know each other and begin planning.

Figure 3: Day 2 Reflective Questions

  • What kind of planning and preparation will each solution need? How long will that take?
  • What kind of resources and support will we need to implement these solutions?
  • Whose support and buy-in will we need that are not yet involved in this project?


To understand whether the participants in the Roundtable felt it helped them improve collaboration and make connections across university silos, the researchers, themselves members of the planning committee, created an anonymous feedback survey. A survey was selected for its ease of implementation, especially when many potential respondents were still most accessible virtually, and the easy ability to collect a mix of quantitative and qualitative data. The survey, created using Qualtrics, was developed by the authors to solicit the attendees’ perceptions and experiences about the format of the Roundtable, its effectiveness as a means of collaborative work, and the potential of future collaboration stemming from the experience through a mixture of closed and open questions [see Appendix 6]. The survey was submitted to the University’s Institutional Review Board and was determined to be exempt from further review. All twenty-five individuals who registered for the Roundtable were sent a link to the optional survey after Day Two of the Roundtable. Respondents were given the ability to skip questions because questions addressed both days of the Roundtable, and not everyone who registered attended both dates.


Ten people began the survey. One respondent chose not to provide consent during the first question, while nine respondents provided consent and completed the survey, leading to a completion rate of 36%. However, due to the ability to skip questions, not every question had nine responses.

Eight of the attendees indicated that the Roundtable was a valuable use of their time. When asked to select all the aspects of the Roundtable they found most useful, 6 respondents selected “Brainstorming,” “Small Group Discussion,” and “Bringing People and Organizations Together.” Four selected “Overview of the First-Year Writing Program,” and two selected “Big Group Discussion” and “Other.” One respondent opted to provide extra information for “Other,” writing that they found value in “meeting and getting to know people I didn’t know. Who knows where these connections may lead?” When given the opportunity to answer on a Likert scale from 0 (Strongly Disagree) to 5 (Strongly Agree), respondents responded with a mean response of 3.88 (N=8) to the phrase “The Roundtable facilitators effectively explained and answered questions about the brainstorming process.” When providing feedback on their responses to that statement, one respondent stated that “The facilitators were knowledgeable and made people feel comfortable. You could tell they had done a lot of pre-work and planning.” Another added that “The faciliators [sic] answers [sic] questions and provided good materials to frame things before the first meeting, and provided thorough recaps after the first but before the second meeting.”

Respondents were given a range of 0 (Strongly Disagree) to 5 (Strongly Agree), to respond to the following statement: “The Roundtable broke down silos between the offices and departments present.” The mean for responses to Question One was 3.88, indicating that participants agreed that the facilitators managed to be approachable and clear about the expectations of the brainstorming prompts. The mean score for responses to Question Two was 3.75, indicating that participants felt that the boundaries between academic units were more permeable because of the Roundtable.

Respondents generated a mean score of 3.75 (N=8) on a range of 0 (Strongly Disagree) to 5 (Strongly Agree) to the statement, “The Roundtable broke down silos between the offices and departments present.” Respondents were able to provide open feedback to explain their responses to the statement. One respondent stated that “Facilitators did a good job of moving an eager group towards good suggestions. I think it is early in the process to observe any major breakdown of silos but it was a good start at promoting networks on campus between service office’s [sic].” A different respondent shared these feelings, writing that “I thought our purpose was well defined. The Roundtable started to break down the silos but more needs to be done to understand the benefits if networking between services [sic].”

When asked “What were some benefits from collaborating with colleagues from different offices and departments?” respondents expressed a variety of positive opinions. Respondents mostly saw value in the general idea of collaboration, valuing “Hearing other opinions,” “New perspectives,” and the opportunity to “establish connections and get to know peers on campus.” Some were about the nature of knowledge sharing in a collaborative environment, approving of “Exchanging knowledge, information, and ideas that will ultimately benefit students” and “Clarifying information and terms, understanding roles.” One respondent was more specific: “In this situation I have a better understanding of what the writing /English classes provide and see the role the Library staff plays in development of student skills.” One salient response indicated that “It was nice to talk with another department about challenges we each faced, and often, discovering that they were similar. We found that each of our respective departments were already addressing some of the other’s problems, we just didn’t know it.” The ability to do work of significance was reflected in one response that appreciated “the ability to make immediate progress.”

In terms of collaboration, 7 of 8 respondents indicated that they had met a collaborator in the Roundtable and had volunteered to work on a project introduced in the Roundtable. 7 of 7 respondents expressed confidence in the leadership and success of their project(s). Regarding the overall structure of the workshop as a means of creating solutions, 6 of 8 respondents reacted positively, one as a neutral maybe, and one negatively. In comments, respondents elaborated on their opinions. They shared affirmations of the timing of activities, the organization, and the collaborative efforts. One respondent was effusive: “This was the best organized group Zoom meeting I’ve ever been in. It was designed spefically [sic] for online and managed to eliminate extranious [sic] discussion.”  However, one respondent questioned the appropriateness of the facilitators, questioning their “boundaries and expertise.” Finally, 6 of the 8 respondents responded affirmatively about participating in a future Roundtable. Of the remaining 2 responses, 1 said they might attend, and 1 marked that they would not attend future Roundtables. Comments indicated that attendees felt committed to their projects, “promoting networking between campus services,” and “building a service network on campus [to] assure better student outcomes.”

In contrast, responses differed on the question “What were some difficulties you encountered collaborating with colleagues from difference [sic] offices and departments?” Responses tended toward uncertainty about the future of the project, difficulties with the online meeting environment, and disagreements over technical terms.  Responses included “Everyone seems quite willing. We’ll see if it is true down the line,” “I’m not a tech person and I prefer to meet in person if possible,” “Mostly limited scheduling availability. One of our participants only works 8 hours/week!,” and most tellingly, “Not respecting expertise and boundaries.”


Most of the respondents indicated that their time was well spent, suggesting that the planning and the sessions themselves were well executed. Attendees appreciated the opportunity to make connections with colleagues in other units on campus. In both closed and open questions, respondents repeatedly praised the opportunities to meet new collaborators and develop relationships across different units. This corresponds with previous research which found that building relationships was a major goal of collaborative endeavors.[32] Respondents appreciated how sharing the different perspectives and knowledge of their colleagues across units could be used to develop solutions, which is a previously noted benefit of collaboration.[33] One important comment related that seeing that other units facing the same difficulties and working to solve similar problems fits into this general theme of mutual aid and support. It seems clear that, regardless of the outcomes of the teams and the projects themselves, there is a desire for campus units to communicate across offices.

Another recurring theme in the responses was that, while the Roundtable was a success initially, it will take work and planning to maintain momentum. Responses to whether the Roundtable broke down silos was mixed both in quantitative and qualitative questions, showing that while it was a good beginning, more communication and work will need to be done to truly see the benefits of cross-unit collaboration. There was also mixed messaging in the responses on confidence in the Roundtable as an ongoing project, with some respondents effusively expressing confidence that projects from the Roundtable would be successfully implemented. However, not all respondents expressed interest in continuing to be involved in the broader Roundtable.

Regarding the (admittedly optimistic) idea that the Roundtable may be able to “[break] down silos between the offices and departments present,” a polite critique is discernible. It should be noted that the Roundtable is intended to be an ongoing project and is in the planning phases of the next iteration. Facilitators agree that the investment of time in both the smaller focus groups and in the coordinating of future Roundtables is essential to maintain the sense of connection created by this experience and to intentionally address the thinning of academic office borders.

Disagreements over technical terminology and the complaint that the facilitators lacked “expertise” connect back to previous literature emphasizing the potential pitfall of cultural differences between units leading to communication issues.[34] Differing beliefs about the nature of learning, or epistemological beliefs, inform the kinds of collaborations that instruction librarians and university faculty have.[35] Epistemological tensions arise when differences create friction in expectation and communication about educational background and knowledge attainability. Understanding the locus of such tensions can aid librarians, faculty, and staff in further collaborations that will help the first-year writer population.


Participants proposed twelve projects on Day Two of the Roundtable. Of those, three are currently in progress. The group working on curricular changes agreed on two immediate tasks. The first task was to create a product that would directly connect students to Center for Writing and Communication (CWC) online tutors without having to sift through the tutors available via the Upswing online tutoring service. The second was streamlining language about the CWC in a standardized course shell. Within a week, work group members drafted a poster featuring a QR code leading to the designated tutors. The poster was distributed to first-year writing faculty and used to update the CWC’s online scheduling instructions. The curriculum group also revised a unit within the ENGL 1020 curriculum to include scaffolded lessons on bias and rhetoric, though the implementation of the unit was placed on hold as the English instructor who was going to pilot the unit was moved to teach sections of ENGL 1010.

The working group on collaborations between units swiftly engineered an evening workshop series (Tigers Write) taught by representatives from the Department of English, the CWC, and the University Libraries dedicated to providing extra time for English composition students to learn, practice, and build skills in writing and information literacy fundamentals. Two virtual workshops were held in the fall of 2021 as a test for the concept, with a larger lineup of five virtual workshops scheduled in spring 2022. The Tigers Write series was a test case of the difficulties of long-term collaboration. The CWC was unable to continue to staff workshop instructors in the spring after staffing turnovers, and the English instructor who had represented the department on the collaborations working group left the university before the spring semester and was not immediately replaced on the group, making outreach and communications with English significantly more difficult.

The working group on student input also suffered due to staffing issues. Only three attendees signed up to be involved in this group. Furthermore, all three were staff members with less flexible schedules than faculty members, and one worked part time. Their duties and time restrictions made it hard for the group to meet on a regular basis, and as of this writing, the group has been unable to implement any of their assigned solutions.

A follow-up Roundtable was scheduled for January 2022 to reconnect the collaborators, evaluate the initial projects, recruit new participants, and revise planning for the future. While the event was planned for in person, the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 in the winter of 2021-22 made holding an in-person event inadvisable. Faced with the choice between cancelling the event and transitioning to an online event, the planning committee decided that there was not enough time to create an effective online event. Thus, the winter follow up was cancelled. In its place, two smaller virtual discussion events were held in February and April 2022.

Lessons Learned

What can be learned from the First Year Student Writing Success Roundtable? The event was in many ways a success. The planning committee had spent significant time and energy devising the structure of a productive collaborative event in a virtual environment, which attendees noted and appreciated. Responses from the survey further indicated that the attendees found the event beneficial, made new connections across campus, and were invested in the solutions they had developed. Academic librarians seeking opportunities to break down silos between themselves and other units on their campuses, especially those who seek to do so through a virtual environment, could find a useful model in the Roundtable.

However, as attendees also noted in the feedback survey, the Roundtable was the beginning of the process for breaking down institutional silos, and the difficulties in following up on the Roundtable’s projects also provide lessons. Issues with staff availability[36] and relying on personal relationships subject to turnover rather than formalized structures[37] can all lead to difficulties continuing collaborative projects. While the planning committee had engaged in extensive preparation for the Roundtable, there was no similar level of preparation for continuing the collaboration after the event. The January 2022 follow-up event was cancelled due to changes in pandemic conditions and a lack of a backup option. Taken together, the initial silo-crossing potential of the Roundtable was not developed. Any academic librarian seeking to use Roundtable as a model would do well to put more planning emphasis on ongoing collaborative structures.


The Roundtable continues to be a work in progress. While the initial event began the process of building relationships and breaking down silos, much remains to be done to implement the projects supporting first-year writing and research. However, the process that has begun is itself important. It is worth noting that, unlike the collaborations between librarians and writing instructors alone, many of the projects spawned from the Roundtable are service-oriented as opposed to curriculum-oriented, making the nature of the Roundtable’s campus impact broader.

Engstrom and Tinto state that the “focus of collaborative partnerships is not on the final ‘product.’ Rather, the purpose of these partnerships is to mutually construct the visions, goals, and processes for developing student-learning experiences.”[38] Not all the proposed projects from the Roundtable may be implemented as planned. But because of the Roundtable, silos between several academic and non-academic units at the University of Memphis have begun to break down, and there is still an opportunity to work together to construct new visions, goals, and processes for first-year writing and research.

Appendix 1: Day 1 Facilitator Handbook


  • Will set up breakout rooms and facilitate all large group conversation

Breakout Facilitator Role

  • Manage breakout rooms
  • Outline brainstorms
  • Keep time – make sure you have a phone or timer on hand!!!
  • Take notes – make sure you have a way to keep track
  • Relay takeaways to large group
  • Refer to Facilitator Handbook for prompts and instructions

In advance:

  • Make list of interest groups
  • Share framed questions
  • Suggest that attendees bring ideas and any research/websites/whatever
  • In advance – what do you see as the biggest need for this group?
  • Share attendee guide with descriptions of all brainstorming activities


  • Whole Group
    • Facilitator Introductions
    • Roundtable Context (5 mins each)
      • What is a first-year learner?
      • What is research?
      • Overview of ENGL 1010/1020
      • Intro to design thinking using YouTube video The Design Thinking Process
      • Go over Rules of Brainstorming – included in facilitator and participant packets
      • Overview of framing questions [see Figure 1 for list]
      • Participants vote for one using PollEverywhere
    • Break: coordinator creates breakout rooms according to interest groups
    • Breakout
      • Brief intro to group purpose
      • Facilitator introduces the purpose of the group as it relates to the group specialization [see Figure 2 for group interest area descriptions].
      • Group Member Introductions: facilitator asks each group member the following questions (slide available to share). Model responding yourself.
        • What do you do in your current job role?
        • Make a connection between the role you play on campus and this student population.
        • What concrete experiences have you had with this population that inform your way of thinking about them or the issues we are discussing?
      • Facilitator introduces brainstorming method(s)
      • Crazy Eights
        • Facilitator: What we are going to do is a very fast brainstorm activity that makes you switch gears quickly and doesn’t let you meditate in the meantime. Group members have sixteen minutes alone to come up with eight ideas/solutions/concepts/changes. These can be small or large, concrete or abstract, experimental or well researched. The purpose is not to find THE solution, but to push beyond a one-solution mindset and get creative. There are no bad ideas, and more ideas are better.
        • Refer to the Crazy Eights template, which should be included in the participant packet.
        • Set a timer for sixteen minutes. Every two minutes, prompt group members to move on.
        • Group members will share their top two or three ideas.
        • Facilitator – Facilitator will open Google Jamboard with three columns: Yes, Maybe, Not Now
        • Write top ideas ideas onto stickies. Do not categorize the stickies yet.
      • What’s Good?
        • Group members discuss ideas and how to sort them into columns using sticky notes
        • Facilitator places stickies into columns agreed by group members
        • Choose two ideas to bring back to the large group
      • Break
      • Whole group discussion: discuss and look for commonalities between ideas
      • What to expect Day 2
        • Day 2 will be focused on reviewing and discussing solutions and talking about what we haven’t said yet.
        • As you think about Day 1, consider what wasn’t considered or mentioned, and be ready to discuss the undiscussable things.
      • Close out

Appendix 2: Day 1 Participant Packet

Facilitator Introductions 

Roundtable Context  

  • What is a first-year learner?
  • What is research?
  • Overview of ENGL 1010
  • Overview of ENGL 1020
  • Introduction to Design Thinking
  • Rules of Brainstorming (IDEO Rules for Brainstorming were attached to email)
  • Overview of Framing Questions
    • Choose one question
    • Answer with Poll Everywhere


Breakout Brainstorm Session 

Group Purpose

  • Curricular development: Improving writing and research skills in first-year courses, specifically what happens in the classroom i.e. learning objectives, lesson plans, assignments, learning activities.
  • Resource development: Identifying and improving infrastructure, services, and supports to improve writing and research skills.
  • Outreach: How to better inform students about writing and research support services.
  • Student connections: How to help students identify and understand how writing and research will help them achieve their academic, career, and personal goals.

Group Member Introductions

  • What do you do in your current job role?
  • Make a connection between the role you play on campus and this student population.
  • What concrete experiences have you had with this population that inform your way of thinking about them or the issues we are discussing?

Crazy Eights

Crazy Eights is a very fast brainstorm activity that makes you switch gears quickly and doesn’t let you meditate in the meantime.

Group members have sixteen (16) minutes to come up with eight ideas, solutions, concepts, or changes as it relates to your group purpose and the first-year learner population. These can be small or large, concrete or abstract, experimental or well researched. You will be working solo, then your group will discuss the top ideas.

The purpose is not to find THE solution, but to push beyond a one-solution mindset and get creative. There are no bad ideas, and more ideas are better.

If you are a visual person, refer to the Crazy Eights template, included in the participant packet.

After the exercise, you will share your top two ideas.

What’s Good?

Group members sort your best ideas into three columns using sticky notes. Spend time discussing what makes ideas viable, doable, preferable, etc. Remember that there are no bad ideas, just some that might not work right away, or under given circumstances.

Your group will choose two ideas to bring back to the big group.


The whole group will discuss and look for commonalities and prepare for Day 2.

Day 2 will be focused on reviewing and discussing solutions and talking about what we haven’t said yet. As you think about Day 1, consider what wasn’t considered or mentioned, and be ready to discuss the undiscussable things.

Appendix 3: Top Ideas Per Group

Curricular Development

  • Create activities, assignments, and resources that support students learning about academic language and research
    • Backward research paper
    • Autoethnography as type of research – foreground research as genre
    • Discussion of genres and analysis of rhetoric using BEAM[39]
    • Arrange and rearrange sentences/ideas to demonstrate formulation of academic language and/or citation and/or incorporating sources
    • Annotation as a form of talking back, entering into the scholarly conversation
      • Students have a place in the conversation
  • Practice self-reflective learning, creativity, and accountability using research journals
  • Understand bias (i.e., confirmation bias and implicit bias) through lesson plans where students identify and examine bias, students find evidence together, and discuss why it is ok to change your mind and/or be wrong

Resource Development

  • Offer Saturday Sessions/Supplemental Instruction for Research and Writing (provide lunch, handouts, resources, etc.). Possibly taught by librarian or graduate assistant.
  • Promote/Teach students how to use the Center for Writing and Communication (CWC)/Libraries by providing resources at the beginning of the semester before they begin their assignments.
  • Reach out to students asking them how we can help them with research skills.


  • Model help-seeking behavior by going to the experts (students) to advance social media efforts and student connection. Validates their voices and ideas. Work study/class credit?
  • CWC/Libraries/tutoring to work and/or function collaboratively including consistent use of terminology and faculty/staff training for better understanding of roles and services.
  • Organic outreach: Libraries faculty/staff in academic roles partner with people/in departments who have more ongoing, on-on-one relationships with students to improve connection. Support services (Office of First-Generation Student Success, Student Support Programs, First Scholars) to bring students to the Libraries for a more robust connection between students/librarians. Can begin with new student orientation.

Student Connections

  • Adding Upswing [campus tutorial software] instructions to the syllabus for the CWC (in-person classes especially)
  • Student ambassadors (word of mouth is a really useful tool for communication, more than official e-mails that are often discarded)
  • Focus grouping students and get them more involved in this process, asking them some of the questions (especially Letter F)

Appendix 4: Day 2 Facilitator Handbook

  • Recap 15 min
  • Review solutions and identify themes 15 min
    • Poll Everywhere open question: What are commons themes you see in our proposed solutions?
    • This will help us identify which solutions naturally connect with each other
  • Prioritizing solutions 30 min
    • Poll Everywhere for each solution: How would you prioritize this solution? Options: Immediate, Short-Term Project, Long-Term Project
    • Use Google Jamboard to display final choices
  • Break 15 min
  • Volunteering and planning 30-45 min
    • Combine projects into groups and list priorities[see Appendix 5]
    • Sign up for group using contact list
    • Make sure variety of representation in groups
    • How do we keep in touch and work together?
      • Email list
      • Teams
      • Check in meetings (could just be group chairs to ease scheduling)
    • Winter meeting functions as deadline/ update period
  • Breakout 30-45 min
    • With your implementation group
    • Share contact information, pick a group chair
    • Open group’s Google Jamboard with two questions:
      • Who else do we need to involve (i.e. campus personnel, groups, administrators, etc.)?
      • What support do we need (i.e. money, time, approvals, etc.)?

Appendix 5: Implementation Group Projects

SolutionsDeveloped ByImplementation
Create activities, assignments, and resources that support students learning about academic language and researchCurricular DevelopmentCurriculumShort-Term
Practice self-reflective learning, creativity, and accountability using research journalsCurricular DevelopmentCurriculumShort-Term
Understand bias i.e. Confirmation bias and implicit bias through lesson plansCurricular DevelopmentCurriculumImmediate
Offer Saturday Sessions/Supplemental Instruction for Research and Writing Resource DevelopmentCollaboration/
Promote/Teach students how to use the CWC/Libraries by providing resources at the beginning of the semester before beginning their assignmentsResource DevelopmentCurriculumImmediate
Reach out to students asking them how we can help them with research skillsResource DevelopmentStudent InputImmediate
Model help-seeking behavior by going to the experts (students) to advance social media efforts and student connectionOutreachStudent InputLong-Term
CWC/Libraries/tutoring to work and/or function collaboratively including consistent use of terminology and faculty/staff trainingOutreachCollaboration/
Organic outreachOutreachCollaboration/
Adding Upswing instructions to the syllabus for the CWC Student ConnectionsCurriculumImmediate
Student ambassadorStudent ConnectionsStudent InputLong-Term
Focus group studentsStudent ConnectionsStudent InputShort-Term

Appendix 6: Survey Questions

  1. [informed consent]
  2. Did you feel that the Roundtable was a valuable use of your time?
    • Yes
    • No
  3. Which aspects of the Roundtable were most useful to you? (Please check all that apply.)
    • Overview of first-year writing program
    • Brainstorming
    • Big group discussion
    • Small group discussion
    • Bringing people and organizations together
    • Other
  4. Please explain “Other.”[open-ended]
  5. Please rate the following statements from 0 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree).
    • The Roundtable facilitators effectively explained and answered questions about the brainstorming process
    • The Roundtable broke down silos between the offices and departments present
  6. Please explain your ratings above. [open-ended]
  7. What were some benefits from collaborating with colleagues from different offices and departments? [open-ended]
  8. What were some difficulties you encountered collaborating with colleagues from different offices and departments? [open-ended]
  9. Did you meet a new collaborator in the Roundtable?
    • Yes
    • No
  10. Did you volunteer to work on a project introduced in the Roundtable?
    • Yes
    • No
  11. Do you feel confident in the leadership of your project?
    • Yes
    • No
  12. Do you feel confident in the likelihood of success of your project?
    • Yes
    • No
  13. Do you feel the structure of the workshop was conducive to creating solutions?
    • Yes
    • Maybe
    • No
  14. Please explain your previous answer. [open-ended]
  15. The Roundtable will be an ongoing series. Do you plan to attend future Roundtable meetings?
    • Yes
    • Maybe
    • No
  16. Please explain your previous answer. [open-ended]
  17. Would you prefer future Roundtables to be an online, an in-person, or a hybrid event?
    • Online
    • In person
    • Hybrid
  18. What would you change about the Roundtable? [open-ended]


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[3] Amy Wainwright and Chris Davidson, “Academic Libraries and Non-Academic Departments: A Survey and Case Studies on Liaising Outside the Box,” Collaborative Librarianship 9, no. 2 (2017): 121, 128,

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[8] Lara Ursin Cummings, “Bursting out of the Box: Outreach to the Millennial Generation through Student Services Programs,” Reference Services Review 35, no. 2 (2007): 288,; Wainwright and Davidson, “Academic Libraries and Non-Academic Departments,” 128.

[9] Love, “A Simple Step”; Ursin Cummings, “Bursting Out of the Box,” 292; Love, “Building Bridges,” 18; Love and Edwards, “Forging Inroads,” 24.

[10] Carolyn Gardner and Jamie White-Farnham, “‘She Has a Vocabulary I Just Don’t Have’: Faculty Culture and Information Literacy Collaboration,” Collaborative Librarianship 5, no. 4 (January 1, 2013),

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[14] Jacobs and Jacobs, “Transforming the One-Shot Library Session into Pedagogical Collaboration,” 75.

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[16] Ferer, “Working Together.”

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[19] Jacobs and Jacobs, “Transforming the One-Shot Library Session into Pedagogical Collaboration,” 75.

[20] Love and Edwards, “Forging Inroads,” 25; Ursin Cummings, “Bursting Out of the Box,” 292.

[21] Love, “Building Bridges,” 15–16; Pauline S. Swartz, Brian A. Carlisle, and E. Chisato Uyeki, “Libraries and Student Affairs: Partners for Student Success,” Reference Services Review 35, no. 1 (2007): 118–19,; Seal, “Resource Sharing Begins at Home,” 129–30.

[22] Swartz, Carlisle, and Chisato Uyeki, “Libraries and Student Affairs,” 119.

[23] Love, “Building Bridges,” 17; Swartz, Carlisle, and Chisato Uyeki, “Libraries and Student Affairs,” 120.

[24] Love and Edwards, “Forging Inroads,” 27–28; Swartz, Carlisle, and Chisato Uyeki, “Libraries and Student Affairs,” 120.

[25] Swartz, Carlisle, and Chisato Uyeki, “Libraries and Student Affairs,” 119.

[26] Gardner and White-Farnham, “‘She Has a Vocabulary I Just Don’t Have’”

[27]  Gardner and White-Farnham, “‘She Has a Vocabulary I Just Don’t Have’”

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[39] J. Bizup, “BEAM: A Rhetorical Vocabulary for Teaching Research-Based Writing,” Rhetoric Review 27, no. 1 (January 1, 2008): 72–86,

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